Monday, 8 February 2016

Faith, hope and clarity

Sunday saw India pick up a consolation ODI win, and two potentially vital ICCWC points, against an Australian team that took it's foot off the gas after a long season. A team that prides itself on it's fielding dropped three clear-cut catches and missed a vital stumping, as Mithali Raj rode her luck to score a vital 89, the Indians chasing down the Aussies under par 234/5 with three wickets in hand.

Meanwhile over in Benoni in South Africa England wrapped up a comfortable seven wicket win as thunderstorms reduced an original target of 197 to just 150. For once it was England's batting that shone with confident knocks from Amy Jones (34), Charlotte Edwards (33), Sarah Taylor (41*) and Heather Knight (26*). With the ball Anya Shrubsole was head and shoulders above her contemporaries taking 4/29 as the Proteas slumped to 196 all out having been 119/1 in the 31st over. In the field Jenny Gunn and Lydia Greenway both dropped chances off Katherine Brunt, either one of which would have given her her 100th ODI wicket.

But what struck me about the two games was the varying fortunes of two potential future stars of international cricket - namely Grace Harris for Australia and Amy Jones for England.

Grace Harris burst onto the scene in Australia last year and made her debut for the Southern Stars in the summer of 2015 in Ireland. She is a no-nonsense hard-hitting batsman, with a care-free attitude to match her style of play. She likes to go big over the legside. "Grace" may be her name, but it is not her style.

Her reputation was enhanced early in the WBBL when she formed an exciting opening partnership with Beth Mooney for the Brisbane Heat, including smashing the tournament's only century, scoring 103 off just 55 balls, against the then hapless Sydney Sixers (who would have thought they would go on to reach the final?). She was a shoe-in for the Southern Stars squad to face the Indians, at least in the T20 version of the game, but she was also selected for the ODI squad too. However things could not have gone much worse for her in the series as she has scored 0, 0 and 9 opening in the T20s, and 2 and 0 in the two ODIs she batted in, coming in at 5. She will always be a hit and miss batsmen, but Australia need at least some "hits" to keep her in the line-up. It will be interesting to see how much faith Aussie coach Matthew Mott has in her with the New Zealand series and the T20 World Cup just around the corner.

In contrast Amy Jones has been in and around the England team for several years without ever really getting much chance to show what she can do. In some ways she is hampered by being a very good wicket-keeper. In almost any other international set-up she would be selected as a wicket-keeper batsmen, but England have the best keeper in the world, Sarah Taylor, behind the stumps, whom Jones has had to understudy on tour after tour. She is however a very stylish batsman in her own right.

She finally made her ODI debut in the ill-fated World Cup game with Sri Lanka in Mumbai in February 2013. Batting at 7 she scored a classy 41, second top score for England. England went on to lose and Jones did not play again in the tournament. In fact she did not play an ODI again until almost a year later, when she appeared in the third Ashes ODI at Hobart. She did not bat. 13 months after that she made a couple of appearances in the 11 in New Zealand, scoring 4 on her only visit to the crease, as England got thumped by 9 wickets. It looked as though the Ashes series last year might finally see her picked as a batsman and given a decent run, but after a good looking 15 in the first ODI at Taunton, she made a duck at Bristol in the following game and took no further part in the series, losing her place in the Test squad to Fran Wilson. She showed the management what they were missing by hitting an unbeaten 155 against the full Aussie squad in a three day warm-up game two days later. England went on to lose the Test, the Ashes series and their Head of Performance (Paul Shaw).

In has come former Sussex coach Mark Robinson as Head Coach, who seems to have a knack of getting the best out of players. He turned around the career of Chris Jordan when he came to Sussex from Surrey and has had a similar positive effect with troubled players like Tymal Mills and Ollie Robinson. He has seen something in Jones' batting which he likes, and he put his faith in her sending her in to open with Lauren Winfield in the first ODI against South Africa. Both have obviously been given licence to bat positively - not slog, but hit through the ball when they can and dispatch the bad balls. The first 10 powerplay overs, when only two fielders are allowed outside the circle, are a key area for scoring runs.

Jones rewarded him with 34 off 27 balls, including six fours. She was out hitting a long-hop to midwicket. It was a frustrating end to a confident knock. Listening to Robinson and Assistant Coach Ali Maiden on commentary, they will have been satisfied with her knock. It had the right intent and the right style. Their confidence in her ability allowed her to bat with the freedom she needed. If she can maintain that positive attitude, and they keep faith in her, then she may prove to be an invaluable asset at the top of the batting order, not just in ODIs, but in T20s too, just in time for the WWT20.

The next few weeks will be interesting times for both players and for the coaches that pick them.



  1. I agree about Amy Jones and her potential. She has a LOT of talent, is good to watch, and England should be sticking with her through thick and thin at the moment. The decision to drop her after the second ODI in the Ashes series, and then subsequently keep her out of the Test side, was very short sighted and kind of marked the point where the selector(s) i.e. Shaw really lost the plot in the summer. I remember, I mentioned that I thought opening the batting would suit her, at the time. If she would have stayed in up at the top of the order in the Test, and T20s we may have kept the Ashes after all. She must be given licence to play with freedom, hit the ball in her areas and not worry about getting out. That seems to have happened - it can only be a good thing.

    In fact I would go so far as to say that we should not be making any changes on this tour, except for injuries of course. Maybe if we win either the first 2 ODIs or T20s, then we could make a change or 2 for the final game of that series, to give some of the others a chance. But if that were the case, then those players left out ("rested") for those third games should be the shoe-ins, not the players fighting for their places.

    It was intriuging listening to the South African commentators on the radio coverage. There was a guy (I forget his name) who worked for the ICC and said they were very concerned about the way that women's ODIs were petering out in the middle overs. Too much spin was being bowled, he said, batsmen were finding it hard to generate enough power to get many runs - and the ICC were seriously considering bringing in new rules into international fixtures limiting the amount that spin bowlers could bowl. The had tried shorter boundaries, smaller balls, field regulation changes, and were becoming increasing frustrated that average scores and run rates weren't really going up quickly enough. It seems a desperate measure.

    The truth is, of course, that spin bowling is an effective way of limiting scoring and generating wickets through batsmen trying to force the pace of the game. It requires less investment of time and resources and less physical effort to become adequate at than pace bowling. In a world of market forces, spin is always going to be an easy answer. I've thought recently that coaches should be trying to lead young bowlers towards seam or swing rather than spin if possible, but I wonder if the ICC should be contemplating legislation to interfere with this aspect of the game. It makes an interesting point for debate, at least.

    1. I think its called irony that whilst that ICC guy was gabbing on about the spinners strangling the women's game, the best economy of the England bowlers were the 3 non-spinners !!
      If spinners are miserly, well just pat on the back and tell the batsmen to buck their technique up.

  2. To elaborate on a point I made on a recent previous blog entry, the total number of innings by an England opener in ODIs where their scoring rate has exceeded 100 is 13 (yes that's only 13 in upward of 300 ODIs - well 308 but some of the really early ODIs didn't record balls received). Taylor (SJ) has 5 of these, Edwards has 3, Knight has 2 and Brittin, Marsh and Wyatt have 1 each.
    The number that have exceeded Jones's scoring rate in the 1st ODI is a mere 6 (with scores of 137, 72, 26, 24, 14 and 12).
    This is stark illustration of just how, well crap, England have been in exploiting the Power Play overs.

    In some ways this 'experiment' of using 'licenced-to-thrill' openers followed by Edwards, Taylor and Knight just makes so much sense. Those 3 aren't going to crack under pressure and have the experience to adapt to whatever situation presents itself. If the openers fail you have 3 players used to handling the new ball, if they succeed you have 3 players who can just manage out the remaining required runs.

  3. England could transform the squad with only two or three 'finds' a young middle order bat to fit inbetween the experienced batters and a young seamer to develop with the established spearhead.

    It would give a different outlook challenge the existing players and provide cover. The coach can only reinvigorate so many players after the initial shock to their system.